Spielwarenmesse: Girl Empowerment influences the toy industry

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Girl Empowerment influences the toy industry

from Maria Costa

“Girl Power”, the trend presented in the Trend Gallery in Spielwarenmesse in 2017 is still very strongly influencing the toy sector. Analyzing the evolution of the trend shows how it still represents an amazing opportunity for our industry and for the whole society.

Incredible women becoming visible

We have all learned in school about the discoveries of amazing male scientists who contributed greatly to the advancement of our society. But even when we learned about literature or art, we mainly heard about masterpieces created by men. In a way, all the previous generations have been raised with the subliminal message that men have been the ones shaping the world.

Feminist kids books
Examples of books for children presenting emancipated women.

Thankfully, there is an effort to show that women, the other half of the population, have been as important but just not as recognized. We have wonderful examples from the publishing industry with a great number of new books in the stores featuring female pioneers in several fields. For instance, just to name a few, the book series written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky “Women in science”, “Women in sports”, “Women in art”, or the ones by Kate Pankhurst “Fantastically great women who changed the world”, “Fantastically great women who made history”.

The topic of feminism explained to little girls is also used in a good amount of new publications for children, even for babies. To name a few examples; “Classical feminist tales” by Ángela Vallvey, “Feminist Baby” by Loryn Brantz, “The book of feminist activities” by Gemma Correll, among others.

Beyond books, there have been exhibits and other events in many cities in different countries related to women’s accomplishments in the last couple of years. In Barcelona, the exposition “SuperWomen. Super Inventors” was very well received. Last year, BMW Group presented “200 Women Who Will Change the Way You See the World”, an exhibit with portraits of remarkable women that was shown in the United States, Sweden and Germany. Also in the United States, the TV network HBO just organized an installation in New York City displaying artwork based on the diaries of relevant women (writers, directors, actresses, et cetera).

The toy industry can greatly benefit from the changes in society that these initiatives are promoting. For example, women and their achievements can actually be a great source of inspiration for toys and games - from topics to specific characteristics. Some companies are taking good advantage of this trend already. Mattel is applying the principles of this phenomenon in their line of dolls “Role Models”. The company Mudpuppies has beautifully illustrated products like books, cards, puzzles, magnets and a diary under the name “Little Feminist” featuring women artists, leaders, activists and pioneers from Cleopatra, to Ella Fitzgerald, Indira Gandhi or Malala Yousafzai.

Inspiring girls

Girls can do everything, that is the idea behind some projects and campaigns we are seeing thriving around the world. These initiatives are presenting the myriad of possibilities girls can become if they break with stereotypes. As a matter of fact, there is a big movement in showing them they can be scientists. For instance, even if learning how to code is a trend in general, projects such as “Code Like A Girl”, “Girls Who Code” or “Django Girls” are focusing mainly on promoting this skill to girls who otherwise might not even think that coding is something they could do.  I love the claim that Django Girls has on the main page of their website, “We inspire women to fall in love with programming”.

8M doll Chef
8M doll Chef

At the latest Spielwarenmesse, Mattel presented their new Barbies developed in collaboration with National Geographic, dolls featuring women working in different fields of science; entomology, astrophysics,… And of course, taking advantage of Barbie’s 60th anniversary, they reintroduced other professions from their history, pointing out that they have been developing doll scientists for many years now. Lego Friends with their new hearth boxes, and Playmobil Playmo-friends are putting into the market collectible girls mini dolls that are also inspired in a big range of professions.

This trend is no-doubt being applied by well-established brands and is also influencing the creation of new business ideas. For instance, with the impact that the feminist demonstrations of March 8th 2018 had in society, the 8M dolls were born. These are “dolls that break down barriers” and inspired by real women, they featured a firefighter, a tattooist, a scriptwriter, a lawyer, a climatologist, and so on. Furthermore, the company collaborates with organizations to provide girls in low-income families with school supplies.

Imaginarium Carnival campaign
Imaginarium Carnival 2019 e-mailing campaign

Beyond specific professions, “Girl Power” is also about letting girls know they can be smart, strong and brave. Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code has a wonderful TED talk about this topic, “Teach girls bravery, not perfection”. This idea has been clearly influencing the media in the last few years, and now it is common to see movies and shows with girl characters that are energetic, spirited, and heroic. This of course is affecting our industry. Captain Marvel dolls and merchandising can be found in several stores nowadays. And beyond licenses, relevant companies and distributors are presenting images of smart courageous girls. For instance, in their last Carnival marketing campaign, Imaginarium showed a knight and a warrior-princess fighting a dragon together.

The trend is here to stay, that is also clear as it is influencing other industries as well. From fashion to home décor industries we are going to be surrounded by messages and slogans such as “Empowered Determined Unstoppable Woman” and “Fearless Female” on shirts by Mango or “Be brave and just be you” on posters by Kenay Home. So be prepared!

“Girl Power” is still very much alive and even growing. This is great for toy companies as it represents a world of opportunities. Think about teaching and encouraging little girls to not be afraid to do and become what they want, beyond any type of restriction or stereotype. That can be done with the features of your product but also with diverse marketing campaigns. New millennial moms are very engaged into raising empowered girls. Celebrate women, empower them and your business with strengthen as well.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spielwarenmesse eG.

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Author of this article:

Maria Costa, AIJU

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